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Trick or Treat

An isolated cry of “trick or treat” drifted through the air as the night’s stragglers finished their rounds. That magic hour of Halloween was approaching, when most children were tucked in their beds, their tummies full of hard-earned sweets, and the shadows flitting between the streetlamps could’ve been anything, free from the observant gaze of unbelieving eyes to keep them in hiding. The neighborhood was settling back into its usual nocturnal peace. Jack-o-lanterns were snuffed out or left to die, curtains were secured against the night.

A single house remained for me. The pillowcase in my hands weighed on my arms as I stood before the looming edifice, staring down the weed-choked walkway leading to the front door. No other house on the block could boast such a plain and dirty appearance. The only evidence that someone lived there was a lonely pumpkin, smashed beneath the shoe of a teenage prankster. All in all, it was an unwelcoming sight, and for a moment I entertained the notion that I’d gathered enough candy, that I could return home satisfied with my earnings. I quickly banished the thought. I’d sworn an oath. This would be the year I approached the house that no one else dared. This would be the year I laid eyes on its reclusive occupant. This would be the year that, among my circle of friends, I became a legend.

The door shifted just a crack when I knocked. It was pried slowly open by delicate fingers wrapped in the velvety softness of a black glove. Stillness flowed out, and though I bid my mouth to speak that sacred, candy-winning phrase, I could produce no sound. My breath was stolen away, sucked into the sliver of darkness. I could only stand with my arms outstretched in silent supplication.

From within the house there came a sensation of movement—the hint of a shrouded face, but nothing more—and one of those gloved hands, with a languorous, caressing motion, deposited a generous helping of black-wrappered candies into my sack. Without a word, the slender fingers retreated, disappearing into the gloom, and the door was quietly shut.

I took a few uncertain steps backward as the lock clicked softly. I’d held my breath throughout the encounter, and now I worried my lungs wouldn’t work. Indeed, it took a powerful effort to draw the last of October’s cool air into my chest as I cast a final glance at the dirt-crusted windows and moldy stonework. Even as I watched, the tenuous influence of the streetlamp on the walls seemed to lessen, and I imagined the entire house vanishing before my eyes, swallowed up by the night. Would it still be there come morning?

Tearing my eyes away, I looked into my pillowcase at my prize. I’d done it. Tomorrow I’d show the candies to my friends as proof. Turning my back on the door, I retraced my steps, my eyes still captivated by the black wrappers. What kind of strange confections were they? I’d never seen anything quite like them before. They held my attention in an iron grasp, beckoning my taste buds with their dark simplicity. I didn’t notice when I reached the end of the walkway, or when I crossed the sidewalk and stepped over the curb.

I was suddenly blinded. My sack of candy gave way to white, and my ears burst with with the blaring of a horn. I braced myself, thought briefly of Mom and Dad, who were waiting for me to come home, and then—

I was staring at the back of the car. The driver had jumped out and was kneeling over a small heap, stammering incoherently to himself. A gentle touch on my shoulder startled me, and I turned to find a black-gloved hand tracing a comforting line down my arm. The face to which the hand belonged was still indiscernible, shrouded as it was beneath its eerily translucent veil. The figure gestured elusively toward the candy that had spilled from the bloody pillowcase, and encouraged me with a tender shove.

I strode timidly to where the car driver was fumbling with a cell phone. He didn’t see me as I bent down and scooped up the black-wrappered morsels. I was careful not to look too closely at the bruised fingers that only moments before had been clutching a sack full of sweets.

The shrouded figure waited for me, its delicate fingers outstretched to receive me as I returned. Wrapping its slender arm around me, it shepherded me back toward the house. The door stood open, dark and welcoming. I entered in, never to emerge.